STRESS AND TIME IN BIOLOGY

On the orbits of inflammation and stress states

Both describe activity states of the body. And this is how they arise. The stress system creates these states. It is active at every moment of our life. When it is running smoothly we feel well but when it is overloaded, depending on the duration of the burden, all of the familiar conditions that make us ill tend to develop. Time plays a very important role in biology and, in my opinion, too little attention is paid to it.

 

A single reading is all-too often taken as an irrefutable fact, instead of as a snapshot in time of limited significance.

 

For this reason, don't let yourself be swayed by a single reading that falls outside the norm. The reason for it could be more than a mere technical error. We are all living creatures with a clock ticking inside us. All of our bodily functions, organs, cells, hormones and other internal messaging agents follow a rhythm closely aligned to the light, so it follows a 24-hour cycle. This means that measurements or readings of individual elements will vary throughout the day. In addition, our lifestyles and daily activities also affect the readings of any sample measurements. For this reason, the progress of any measured element should be observed and the overall pattern assessed. Blood pressure and blood sugar measurements are good examples of this. As patients we should always insist on multiple readings and only start taking medications such as anti-diabetics or anti-hypertensives after several checks. You should also stay well away from statins, prescription of which is extremely questionable these days.

 

For me, time is an integral part of life, and only in death is time extinguished.

 

In medicine and biology, people struggle with time, perhaps because it is in us and difficult to record as a measurement. It is easier to deal with time in physics, because it is located outside the body in a room where a clock can be attached.

 

Every inflammation is based on a stress state in the biological sense. That stress state is the response of the stress system to environmental stimuli, but also to triggers within our body. Incidentally, we are 100,000 times more sensitive to changes within our internal world than our external environment.

The outcome of dealing with stress should be the kind of balance that can be equated with wellness. The stress response of the body is not a conscious process. Awareness generally only kicks in once the traumatic event (stress situation) has passed. If that were not the case, any suitable life-saving response would come far too late.

Cell under oxidative stress caused by oxygen free radicals.

Do not let yourself be swayed by a single reading.

The stress system consists of complex, interconnected regulatory circuits which interpret, analyse and trigger corrections in response to a myriad different stimuli, signals and perceptions, almost in real time. This network located in the brain constantly compares current factors from the periphery with the prescribed standard levels and initiates the appropriate adjustments and corrections in the periphery of the body. The periphery sends the amended results back immediately and the process begins all over again. This occurs with a frequency that comes close to a continuum. When the acute stress response is triggered, after a brief, active phase of all systems involved, the control phase follows, which is carried out by the same systems. All activation incidents occur within a minute and, from that time on, things only slow down.

In this way, factors such as blood pressure, pH, body temperature and blood sugar levels are modulated and stabilised within defined thresholds.

In response to any stressors, the stress system can be activated in less than a second. The processes of containment and control then kick in immediately. It may take hours or even days until the body is able to return to its natural equilibrium.

Given what I have just written, it may well look as though the stress state and inflammation are two sides of the same coin, and that is the case as long as the body stays in balance. Once that is no longer the case, the stress system loses its inner harmony.

The inflammation becomes stronger and is no longer an underlying phenomenon but a measurable one. The immune system itself is deregulated and as a result, other organ systems such as vessels, connective tissue, muscles, metabolism and individual organs are affected. At some point – the timing is unpredictable – a diagnosis will be made of one of the many chronic illnesses we seem powerless to prevent.

 

For a long time, chronic inflammation eluded our usual measuring methods. So I have no answer to the question of how to detect inflammation yourself, unless you pay close attention to how your body feels. It is not until chronic inflammation is in danger of presenting as a chronic illness or the diagnosis has already been made that it will be reflected in the lab results. Presenting those figures in detail and explaining them all to you is beyond the scope of this page, since I would have to treat each illness separately.

 

What I can say is that naturally the non-specific inflammation parameters such as CRP, blood sedimentation rate, interleukin-6 and interleukin-1 or immunoglobulin are usually raised, the blood count changes or the cortisol level is raised. Severe, long-lasting stress leads to an increase in cortisol with long-term effects on the body's metabolism.

 

Measuring heart rhythm variability is also a good indicator of the extent of inflammation within the body.


I could write a whole book about what it is like to overdo things, to think that I can get to the finish line faster than others or sooner than my body will allow. Many injuries have plagued me over the years. I had not done any form of regular exercise for two decades until I started running. Now I have been running on a regular basis for 25 years. And the basis of good endurance fitness has since been laid. Over the past two years I have added high intensity interval training (HIIT) to my fitness regime. Running was too one-sided and caused a whole range of injuries and painful conditions including everything from sciatica and muscle tears to heel spur.

When I put too much pressure on my body or run too many kilometres over the weekend, I now know that I will be bad-tempered, moody and listless the next day, and my work will not come easily. I won't have much appetite. I simply feel lousy.  All of this is the result of inflammatory processes within my body.